Academic journal article Issues in Law & Medicine

Frogs, Crabs, and the Culture of Death: Lessons from the Schiavo Case

Academic journal article Issues in Law & Medicine

Frogs, Crabs, and the Culture of Death: Lessons from the Schiavo Case

Article excerpt

10 J. AM. PHYSICIANS & SURGEONS 55 (Summer 2005).

Persistent Vegetative State (PVS) is "coma-lite." In 1972, Drs. Bryan Jennett and Fred Plum explained the distinctions among several terrible kinds of brain injuries resulting in losses of consciousness, cognition, and speech. PVS differed from coma in that the patient with PVS has open eyes and follows a comparatively normal sleep-awake cycle.

The term "vegetative state" is intentionally powerful and denigrating, relegating the person to a rung in the hierarchy of creation below that of an animal. The traditional Great Chain of Being, traceable back through the millennia to Aristotle and Plato, then the Hebrew and Christian Bibles, describes the order of the universe with God or Nature as the top link, with angels and spiritual beings next, then man and woman in the middle, with mind and spirit making the human being ascend to the spiritual, and the body's appetites, urges, and sexuality connecting mankind to the next link down, the animal world. Below the animal link is the vegetable world. The final link is the totally inanimate objects, minerals, and rocks.

Devastating loss of mental power permits a person to be classed as persistently (though not necessarily permanently) lower in cognition than a dog, a salamander, or a horse. PVS means complete unawareness of self and environment. Some people observing Terri and certain that she would "never want to live like that," considered her revelation of pain during her monthly menstrual period, her interactions with people at a nurses' station, and her response to the voice and appearance of her mother, as no more volitional or cognitive than tropisms of a squash, eggplant, or cauliflower. …

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